Mental Health First Aid – a perspective

5 minutes
Jo Hodge

By Jo Hodge

Guest post by Marion Hewitt

When we say first aid, historically people would think about accidents or physical emergencies. A first aider offers help and support, provides comfort, and prevents further harm, until professional help arrives.

Increasingly organisations are training Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders). MHFA is not about advising or diagnosing. It is non-judgemental listening and signposting to appropriate professional help.

MHFAiders are trained via an internationally recognised evidence-based course, delivered by licensed MHFA England instructors. MHFA England’s mission is to increase mental health literacy and reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health.

Working in often challenging conditions, particularly during current times, with limited financial resources, organisations need to be confident investing in MHFA is money well spent.

In my last blog I highlighted the alarming statistics in relation to mental ill health and particularly the impact of the last few months. Since then the ONS has published findings saying 37% of people i.e. 19 million people, reported experiencing very high levels of anxiety.

Before I share my thoughts, consider this very simplistic calculation. Even if you add in the time cost of training (online this is around 15 hours) the cost is recouped in a week.

MH ROI Training

The benefits of raising awareness of mental health

Practical mental health training gives people tools to help keep themselves healthy and support each other. It can also:

  • Build confidence to have open conversations around mental health and break the stigma.
  • Encourage people to access support early, for a faster recovery.
  • Empower people with a long-term mental health issue or disability to thrive in work.
  • Promote a healthy environment, stopping preventable issues and allowing people to thrive and become more productive.
  • Embed a long-term positive culture across the whole organisation, where employees recognise their mental and physical health are supported as equal parts of the whole person.

The role of a MHFAider

A MHFAider is not a counsellor or a therapist and will not provide a diagnosis. Their role is to:

  • Understand the important factors affecting mental ill health.
  • Identify the signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions.
  • Use a five-step action plan to provide MHFA to someone experiencing a mental health issue or crisis.
  • Listen non-judgementally and hold supportive conversations.
  • Signpost people to professional help.

MHFAiders are not experts in mental health, in the same way that a physical first aider is not expected to have the expertise of a doctor. They are there at the point of need.

The experience of being a MHFA

To gain the perspective of a MHFAider within an organisation I spoke to Tracey George, Chief Operating Officer at TPP. I asked for her thoughts and experience on both being a MHFAider and the outcomes for the organisation.

There are many case studies and the MHFA Impact report (2019) and other research can be seen via this link.

The impact of MHFA

Much of the evidence is relating to raising awareness and increasing conversations, and shows a positive impact.

It would be helpful to have more data giving clarity on the wider business impact. However, I don’t believe this can be measured in isolation. My belief is that MHFA will definitely make a positive impact within an organisation as part of the wider business and wellbeing strategy. The best actions are those with impact at cause level. This conviction has strengthened over many years working within HR and as an accredited MHFA England Instructor.

Organisations that train a few MHFAiders as a ‘tick box’ exercise and are not committed to reducing stigma and increasing understanding of mental ill health, are unlikely to see business wide benefits. Those that combine introducing MHFAiders with raising general awareness and really focusing on reducing the stigma will see positive outcomes.

Those that know the importance of wellbeing at senior level and really put people at the centre of business decisions are the real winners. They consider job design, flexible working options, working conditions and environment, culture and values, - I could go on… These organisations will see positive outcomes in many areas. This list includes, as a starting point, engagement, productivity, customer experience, creativity, retention and a better employment proposition. As well as the traditional metrics of absence levels and employee turnover.

Which type of organisation are you going to be?
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